Digest: Russian cultural autonomy on other side of Narva River, says Helme

EKRE chairman Mart Helme.
EKRE chairman Mart Helme. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

In an opinion piece published in daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL), Mart Helme, chairman of the opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), finds it unsurprising that Centre Party MEP Yana Toom would want cultural autonomy for Estonia's Russian-speaking population and invites those interested in it to either assimilate or move to Russia.

"We know and see how all of the Centre Party's Russian-language elite is pushing through a new round of Russification with all the means they have at their disposal," Helme said, noting that both in the capital city of Tallinn as well as on the state government level, the Centre Party is in power and thus has financial and administrative power that can be leveraged to fulfil their goals and adding that it was to their advantage that having an Estonian at the helm of both the party and the Estonian government even worked to their advantage.

According to Helme, both the Kremlin and Brussels, while employing slightly different approaches, have the same ultimate goal — to see Estonia become a multicultural and multiethnic state. While the EU wants to achieve this goal by bringing in migrants from Africa and the Middle East, the Kremlin wants to bring in people from Slavic areas. "The substance remains the same, however: the local indigenous population must become a minority, its language and culture ethnographic relics, and its political rights delegated to geopolitical power centres," he described.

Helme noted, however, that this was not in any way a novel situation. "The surrendering of sovereignty began years ago already, and a crucial intermediate step thereof was the granting of the right to vote to all permanent residents in 1997, under the leadership of Mart Laar and Toomas Hendrik Ilves," he asserted, citing that Latvia, in contrast, stuck to its convictions and refused to grant suffrage to noncitizens.

Estonia, he warned, was taking catastrophic steps, due to pressure from both the Centre Party-partnered United Russia Party as well as Reform- and Social Democrat-led europhile liberals, and doing things like redefining nationality and dismantling the country's Estonian-language education system — and all seemingly voluntarily, openly and tolerantly.

It was no surprise, then, that Toom would trot out the bait of autonomy for Estonia's Russian residents. Estonians, meanwhile, have to consider the issue more critically, Helme said, citing the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 as having been the culmination of events that began with the demand for autonomy in 1992 and noting that the same issue continues to play out today in Eastern Ukraine.

Toom, he pointed out, was playing this up to be a human rights issue, but this had nothing to do with human rights, or culture, or autonomy. "Russians have cultural autonomy alongside 140 million of their people on the other side of the Narva River; we're not stopping them from running Russian-language schools or watching Russian TV channels there," he said.

Estonians, said Helme, want just one thing of Russians, including Russian politicians like Yana Toom — to leave them alone. He invited those interested in remaining in Estonia to assimilate, and those not interested in doing so to respond to Russian President Vladimir Putin's invitation to return to Mother Russia. "Because Russia has just one goal — to reclaim at least the Soviet Union-era Russian Empire, if not that of 1913," he warned.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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